Tastes great, less filling. That might be the tagline for the Democrats’ budget this year.
There will be talk of all the domestic programs Democrats want to spend tens of billions of dollars on — health care, education, highways — and the reality that President Bush already has issued veto threats against any bill that spends more than he has requested, and against any bill that raises taxes.
That’s a recipe for near-gridlock, as both sides are lobbing rhetorical grenades at each other with the election looming.
With narrow margins in both chambers, Democrats aren’t about to try anything particularly hard, like dealing with the long-term entitlement mess or providing universal health care.
Instead, Democrats have more modest goals. Most importantly, they want to show that they can pass a budget for the second year in a row after Republicans failed to pass one in three of the previous five years when the GOP ruled. They also want to use the budget blueprint to frame the debate before the elections and put Republicans on the defensive — and tied at the hip with an unpopular president — while the economy sputters.
“We want to talk about responsible fiscal spending that is going to provide health care, education and job training for people who have lost their jobs,” said Nadeam Elshami, spokesman for Speaker Nancy Pelosi (D-Calif.).
“Our budget is going to balance by 2012, it is going to adhere to PAYGO and restore fiscal responsibility,” he said.
But from a practical standpoint, the budget resolution will mean relatively little. Democrats are expected to add $25 billion to $35 billion to Bush’s budget requests for domestic programs, rejecting proposed cuts across a range of programs. Bush’s veto threat renders the discretionary spending cap of little value except as a political blueprint.
Democrats have warned that they will hold domestic bills until after the elections in hope that a Democrat is elected, which means that only Defense and war-related bills are likely to reach the president.
Democrats also plan to include instructions that would allow spending and tax bills to avoid a Senate filibuster, but those bills will likely face veto threats as well. Those instructions under budget rules must at least marginally cut the deficit, and they are expected to provide room for some tax-cut extensions as well as avoid a scheduled 10 percent cut in doctor’s payments under Medicare.
But Democrats believe it behooves them to bypass a filibuster and get a bill to the president to highlight the showdown over policy priorities.
Senate Democrats defended their attempt to pass a budget, which will kick off on Wednesday in both House and Senate Budget committees, even as they acknowledged the exercise will likely be more political than substantive.
“It is less worthwhile than we will make it out to be,” acknowledged a senior Senate Democratic aide.